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Labor Matter of Public Importance - Anglican Church Asset Sales

22 August 2018

Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - I thank the member for Lyons, Ms Butler, for bringing on this matter as a matter of public importance today.

A number of members of the Chamber attended the parliamentary prayer breakfast this morning. I had the great good fortune to be seated next to Bishop Condie, who is the man in the hot seat on this issue. I took the opportunity to ask him how the process of engaging with communities and congregations about the sale of churches is going. It has obviously been very difficult for him and the synod generally.

I was talking about how you turn your lemon into lemonade. What has been any positive to come out of this decision? He talked about truth telling and going into congregations and talking about the sustainability of their churches and congregations of three people, and an 84-year-old pastor who has not been paid for 20 years. There is a sustainability question here.

More importantly, we cannot lose sight of the fact that this difficult decision was made by the Anglican Church. It was the first church in Tasmania to step up and take its responsibility for the harm that was caused to children in its care in the past. I can appreciate how traumatic it is for some communities that feel they will lose their church and believe they are potentially losing part of the fabric of their lives as a result. We need to remember that this decision was made so that the Anglican Church can take responsibility for the harm that was caused to these children.

No-one who is vehemently opposed to the sale of these churches in anything that I have read or heard has put forward the alternative for how the Anglican Church might meet its obligations to contribute towards redress.

Ms White - Sell some carparks. They have commercial property they could divest themselves of.

Mr Hidding - The income from which pays their clergy.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is really easy to take a parish-pub political approach to this and not step back and talk about the survivors.

Ms Butler - You should talk to the people out there. No-one has a problem with redress. It is how this is being raised.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, I talk to survivors, often. There is a certain understandable cynicism about saying we want to make the church keep all these properties but we accept that the church has to be responsible for redress. Pardon me, but I think we need to put the survivors front and centre here. Anyone who knows Bishop Condie knows that this is not a decision that he or his team have taken lightly. No sane and reasonable person would immerse themselves in this level of community conflict and tension if there was a real alternative. The fact is the Anglican Church of Tasmania does not have $8.6 million in its back pocket.

I hear the arguments for selling the parking lot behind St David's Cathedral. That is one mechanism for raising money, but I am trying to see it from Bishop Condie's point of view. He is a person of enormous integrity and conscience who recognises the church has to take responsibility for redress and is, in a broader sense, concerned about the sustainability of the churches in Tasmanian communities where the Anglican Synod is responsible for a building at which there are no services any more, or at which there is a congregation of less than a handful of people and an unpaid 84-year-old pastor.

For people whose families have a history with a church and people who have laid to rest loved ones in a churchyard this takes on a very different dimension. I understand that. I urge you, Ms Butler, as a member for Lyons, to look at the testimony and the felt experience of Tasmania's Aboriginal community who had to watch the Brighton bypass go over the remains, the graves and the history of their loved ones.

For some perspective, we need to respect the resting places of all the peoples of Tasmania, historical and to present day. This is not an easy public conversation to be having. It is highly regrettable that, as a parliament, we are we are having to deal with legislation like redress. It is highly regrettable that good people across all of the churches, good Christians, have been stained by the actions of people who have purported to be religious - and Christians - in the past but who abused their power and their privilege and caused lifelong harm to people. The survivors of child sexual abuse will never recover. Some people just did not make it as they were so damaged and so traumatised that they made the most difficult decision of all. As a Tasmanian, I have great sympathy for communities who feel, rightly, that they are going to lose something important to them. The church has been in some decline at a local level for some time now. We have more than 100 Anglican churches around Tasmania, not all of which are valued and frequented by their community or by a congregation that is able to sustain those places.

I want to read a really beautiful letter I received from an architect I know who is very passionate about maintaining these churches as churches. The letter is from Jim Jones, former president, Tasmanian Architects. He says -

Between silence and light, the Anglican Church sell off is unacceptable. On approach to almost every Tasmanian country town there is mastery in the sighting and architecture of the little churches. On the rise at Ross, pivotal on the corner at Pisa, hovering above the highway at Hagley, resting quietly at Cressy, standing proud at Richmond or Bothwell or Cranbrook, the door always open, a quiet public interior.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - The member's time has expired.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I want to make the point that this is not an easy issue. It has not been easy for anyone who is involved in it.